NPUC Gleaner: Learning From History?

By Engel Yoder


The March 2017 NPUC Gleaner editorial titled “Protest” likens the NAD union presidents who are opposing the authority of the General Conference (GC) to the German princes who opposed the authority of the papal church at the Diet of Spires in 1529 (1). By making this analogy, the editorial further insinuates that our GC leaders can be likened to the papal leaders whose authority the princes protested against. The editor then asks, “What could the princes of long ago teach us by example?”

It is difficult to put into words just how offensive such an editorial is. And that it has been printed in an official church publication shows just how incredibly disjointed church leadership is in the NAD. But not only does this reveal how disconnected NAD leadership is from the rest of the world church, the history the Gleaner editor suggests that we learn from has nothing to do with our current church crisis.

When we consider what the princes of long ago can truly teach us, we find they held to two principal points. Regarding the Diet of Spires we have this historical summary:

“The principles contained in this celebrated Protest . . . constitute the very essence of Protestantism. Now this Protest opposes two abuses of man in matters of faith: the first is the intrusion of the civil magistrate, and the second the arbitrary authority of the church. D’Aubigne, b. 13, ch. 6” (2).

Obviously, the intrusion of civil authorities is not an issue in our current situation, but neither is the arbitrary authority of the church. Can any thinking Adventist actually contend that the source of the current controversy—the 2015 GC Session vote regarding women’s ordination—was an exercise of arbitrary church authority? Never in our church history has there been so much time and study invested in a single question as this one. Every world division fully participated and expressed itself. And once the ultimate body of church authority, consisting of over 2300 duly appointed representatives from around the world, made its decision, can anyone seriously say that this decision was an arbitrary one? Or that this decision was made by the exercise of so-called “kingly” or “popish” power?

But the historian continues by going beyond identifying what the Protest at Spires opposed and identifies what it affirmed:

“. . .Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate, and the authority of the word of God above the visible church. In the first place, it rejects the civil power in divine things, and says with the prophets and apostles, ‘We must obey God rather than man. . . .’ But it goes farther: it lays down the principle that all human teaching should be subordinate to the oracles of God” (3).

As the Gleaner editorial correctly points out, the papal church claimed to have authority above that of Scripture, and this claim the princes at Spires vehemently denied. But never has Protestantism claimed that all believers would interpret Scripture in precisely the same way. The myriad of Protestant denominations attests to this fact. Actually, the principles of Protestantism purposefully grant anyone who in good conscience cannot accept the teachings and practices of a particular denomination to be entirely at liberty to go to, or even to start, another church or denomination that is more to his liking. But to expect that one can abide within a faith community while openly defying the authority of that community is to embrace the principles of the papists at Spires, not the German princes. Indeed, this expectation reflects the spirit of the one who caused war in heaven when he desired to retain his place there while defying the authority of heaven’s Sovereign.

If the editor of the Gleaner wants us to learn something from history, I suggest we begin with the editor’s own history as a four-year old and learn that a duly authorized “No” means “No.” If someone cannot accept and respect that answer, then that person, like a mature adult, should pack his soap and toothbrush and go. I sincerely hope, however, that he would choose to stay, and that he would reconsider the moral principles upon which he stands. They just may not be as solid as he thinks. He may then be reassured that the General Conference in Session remains God’s ordained authority on earth (4), that this authority is to be respected even if its judgments are not entirely understood at the moment, and that our Father’s house is truly the safest and most secure place to be in all the world.


Notes

1. http://GleanerNow.com/news/2017/03/protest, accessed March 20, 2017).
2. The Great Controversy, p. 203).
3. Ibid.
4. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, pp. 260, 261.


Biographical Note: Engel Yoder has recently retired after 33 years of denominational service with Christian Record Services for the Blind. He lives in Kansas and serves as an elder in his local church.

The consecration of practicing homosexual Gene Robinson to the office of bishop proved the final straw leading to the realignment of the Anglican Church. Now, the Western Jurisdiction (composed of Alaska, Pacific Northwest, Oregon-Idaho, Yellowstone, California-Nevada, California-Pacific, Desert Southwest, and Rocky Mountain conferences) of the United Methodist Church, has appointed ordained woman pastor Karen Oliveto, a practicing lesbian, to bishop. The office of bishop is the top leadership position that may be held in the United Methodist Church.

Oliveto, a woman, is “married” to Robin Ridenour, a woman. She was voted to be bishop on July 15, 2016 by delegates of the Western Jurisdiction. Her consecration service may be viewed here:


[The charge to Oliveto to be faithful begins about timestamp 13:15, laying on of hands and consecration 25:00, and at 28:10 her introduction as bishop.]

Oliveto wrote a song called “Pope Crush” she posted on the internet, in which she claims to be very taken by the Pope, among other things.

Response to this extraordinary development was not long in coming. Pastor Rob Renfroe responded with a stern warning and appeal, speaking of schism less than one minute into his eight minute presentation. Renfroe is a leading voice for Methodists still seeking to hold Scripture authoritative.

After describing several voted statements of non-compliance, Renfroe says, “This is now on a systemic level. This is mass rebellion within the church, and no one seems willing or able to hold them accountable.” He is probably right when he says, “This cannot be glossed over with happy words.” Pastor Renfroe urges faithful Methodists to become members of a new organization called the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

The United Methodist Church seems headed for separation. Many Methodist leaders are acting in violation of the United Methodist Book of Discipline and appear unable to muster the clarity and decision necessary to save their church from schism.

As Adventists we share much with the Methodists, and so remain alert to developments there. Will the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church see the nature of the present crisis in our Church, and act with decision? Organizational disintegration is now occurring in our own ranks. Many Adventist conferences, unions, and unions of churches are acting out voted decisions of insubordination. The decision of the General Conference in San Antonio to refuse to make way for women’s ordination is being set aside for local preference. Will the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church take needful action this year? Or will our own leaders fail in this moment of crisis?

Let us pray earnestly for the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as Annual Council approaches in less than two months.

By Council of Adventist Pastors

On May 18, delegates to the United Methodist Church (UMC) 2016 General Conference Session meeting in Portland, Oregon, USA, voted to create a special commission which could call a Special GC session and make epochal changes to Methodist faith and practice.

The UMC has experienced heated conflict over LGBT questions. Protests have occurred at several GC sessions. The present session has seen several protest spectacles, including LGBT persons covering their own mouths shut with rainbow tape, and even tying themselves up and positioning themselves to lay bound on the session floor.

Even before the session, Methodists had been calling for an amicable separation, and influential Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton revealed at a 7:00 a.m. meeting on May 17 that the leaders of the denomination had been quietly meeting for several days to consider possible changes. According to Hamilton,

So, the conversation began to be, what if a special commission was appointed by this general conference, that the bishops recommended this, and the general conference appointed a special commission, whose job would be to take the next two years and develop a plan for (and this will be my language and not everybody else’s language), a plan for reordering the life of people called Methodists and the United Methodist Church? That plan for reordering would create, out of one United Methodist Church, potentially three new United Methodist Churches. And one would be the conservative United Methodist Church; one would be a church for those who are progressive who only want to be in a church with people who are progressive and will allow nothing less than full inclusion on everything, for everybody, in other words, that every pastor needs to be doing same-gender weddings, every pastor, every church needs to host same-gender weddings, so, if that’s where you are and you say, that’s a justice issue and we really can’t be with other people who are not like us on this; and then a church for what I perceive to be the vast majority of United Methodists which are somewhere in the middle. . . (Time stamp 22:24-23:39).

According to Hamilton,

In two years we would have a special called general conference for probably three days, in which the plan or plans would be laid out and the general conference would vote and its entirely possible that they could vote to dissolve the United Methodist Church as we know it and the next day reopen under new management, or maybe not new management, but something new, three different something-news (Time Stamp 25:43-26:07).

The presentation in which Hamilton’s made these statements can be viewed here:

The plan described by Hamilton was nearly identical to the recommendation made by UMC bishops the next day, first defeated then in almost identical form approved, but only by 23 votes. That proposal passed by the GC reads as follows:

Next Steps

We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts.

We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and that will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with this Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then we will call a two to three day gathering before the 2020 General Conference. (We will consult with GCFA regarding cost-effective ways to hold that gathering.)

Continuing Discussions

We will continue to explore options to help the church to live in grace with one another — including ways to avoid further complaints, trials, and harm while we uphold the Discipline. We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church.

Today, as a way of beginning to find our way forward, we suggest that in place of the allotted legislative time we spend 1–2 hours of plenary time in prayer, confession, and then exploration of a creative way forward. The bishops are prepared to provide questions to guide your conversations. Your conversations will be the first step to a way forward.

The “creative way forward,” seems to refer to what Hamilton presented in the video above linked. In fact, it was the same pastor, Hamilton, who the previous day called for the bishops to introduce some kind of plan! The denomination could be reorganized into as many as three distinct bodies.

It is important to understand that the GC session had been going well for conservative Methodists. A strong push to adopt “Rule 44” which potentially would have been used to process plenary agenda item votes and given place for the expression of stories and feelings in small groups, was defeated only after long hours of debate on different days. In smaller committees, items were being passed to keep the LGBT agenda from advancing. One ingenious plan (CUP) was also advancing through committees which would have suspended ministers who officiated at same-sex “weddings” for a year but which would also permit pro-LGBT churches to leave the denomination with their property. May 18 was scheduled to be the day when the most contentious issues involving homosexuality were to be voted on. All of that was preempted by the recommendation of church leadership of the special commission proposal.

Pastor Rob Renfroe describes the CUP plan in the video below:

The combination of the delegate’s steadfast rejection of attempts by LGBT activists to push their agenda, combined with the many initiatives which would have strengthened Methodist resolve, created an even deeper feeling of crisis. Notice what pro-LGBT Methodists say about the course of the session and the sudden introduction of the bishop’s plan:

From Love Prevails UMC:

Certainly our pressure before and during GC has prevented worse legislation for LGBTQ United Methodists and their allies from coming before the General Conference for a vote. Votes we would have lost. The collective resistance of our entire movement brought us to this moment (https://loveprevailsumc.com/2016/05/19/getting-played-for-the-okey-doke/, accessed 2016-05-20).

And from Reconciling Ministries network:

Wow. What just happened? We’re sure some of you are asking that regarding yesterday’s decisions. . . . This is a win because it prohibits any legislative action that would further harm LGBTQ people and threaten the cause of justice. . . . As the commission is doing its work, the Bishops have promised to look for ways to avoid church trials and because this comes from the FULL council of bishops, that is an unprecedented commitment. In the past, only a few bishops committed to avoiding church trials. Some people feel like this is nothing, that nothing was accomplished yesterday, that this is nothing but a delay tactic. We realize that many of our constituents are upset and angry. But the alternatives that were quickly shaping up on the floor of GC would have led to a disastrous ending. . . . It’s important to recognize that the work of LGBTQ people and their allies created this opportunity and this moment (http://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/no-matter-what-lies-ahead-we-remain-committed/, accessed 2016-05-20).

Pastor Rob Renfroe, a leader of the Methodists who oppose LGBT, offered this fascinating insight in a video that was released Friday morning (2016-05-20):

Many of the people who came to Portland convinced that they would change our position regarding marriage and sexuality, were the very people who promoted that we should create the commission and not vote on any issues related to sexuality. Now why would they do that? Because very early on, in this year’s General Conference, they learned that they did not have the votes to change the discipline. They learned in the committees that they were outvoted over and over again, and were certain that if these issues were brought to the plenary sessions they would loose, and embarrassingly so (https://youtu.be/rkoUnibdcC4, Time Stamp 1:11-1:47).

The point being, that after decades of strife and division over LGBT issues, conservative Methodists are finding voice to resist.

The 2016 Methodist General Conference session closes Friday, May 20. The key developments for the session have taken place. Seventh-day Adventists and Methodists share a great deal of history and organization in common and developments in the Methodist Church, can “preview” for us possible futures, good or bad, in our own church.

The Methodist Church voted to ordain women pastors 60 years ago. Today the denomination is in deep crisis over LGBT issues, and it remains to be seen whether the denomination can remain together until it holds a special GC session in 2018.

CAP has spent a few weeks sharing items that can help us understand developments in other denominations. Now we will return to address dangerous developments in our own Seventh-day Adventist Church. We will be publishing a series of items addressing our own Commissioned Minister Crisis. May God be with all as we ponder needful action to keep Seventh-day Adventist churches faithful to Scripture and focused on mission.